Peggy Honeywell

Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, Sunday, Feb. 6

Ever since we plucked Peggy Honeywell's debut, Honey for Dinner, from beneath a stack of nondescript promotional discs at our college radio station a few years back, her slurred drawl—likely fueled more by tall mint juleps than shots of brown-bagged bourbon—and banjo-for-beginners lullabies have provided the soundtrack to our nagging Kentucky-plains wanderlust. And while it's a safe bet that few present at Honeywell's free afternoon performance at the Orange County Museum of Art shared our bluegrass daydreams, it's an even safer bet that outside of a handful of OCMA staffers, no one had ever heard of Miss Honeywell—who rarely tours—or her dandelion ditties, which, so far as we know, have only been played on one radio show: ours.

So what, exactly, was this petite, southern-by-way-of-Ohio beaut in a willowy red housedress and tarnished red Mary Janes doing playing to a crowd who'd come to check out "Beautiful Losers," OCMA's exhibition of skateboarding and DIY culture? Turns out Honeywell's real name is Clare E. Rojas, and her real gig involves screen prints and paintings, some of which are included in the exhibit and which explain the whole not-touring bit and which honestly make us—as clear evidence of Honeywell's right-brained superiority—want to pack it all in, sell the couch, and hitchhike to a penniless future in Louisville.

Honeywell's strength, however, contrasts with the irony and protest-laden imagery on display at the museum, resting instead in her marvelous ability to capture—sincerely and passionately—the stuff childhood daydreams are made of: planets, birds, cats and sunsets. "Little birdie, little birdie, come and hear this old melody," she crooned during—you guessed it—"Little Birdie," the wistful longing in her voice and slow banjo melody transforming a fourth grader's reverie into a hymn worthy of its own Baptist homily. It was followed by the more dour Dear John kiss-off "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon"—"Sorry that I cannot go with you/Even though you want me to, I don't want to live on the moon"—and later by a few perfectly resurrected folk spirituals, and for a brief moment, it felt as though her songs were actually slowing time down to a molasses-like drip.

But it was only a moment: the downside to a Honeywell-induced spell? No song lasts longer than two minutes. Twenty minutes go by, and you're floating in yellow skies over green mountains, but then you look up and realize it's been 10 songs, the set's done, and Honeywell's halfway packed and out the door—headed, no doubt, toward her next daydream.

 
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